As you can tell from the title, this is a little bit of a hot take. Baseball is filled with many great pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yu Darvish and many more. At the top is Jacob deGrom, followed by Shane Bieber. Those two righties have been on a level by themselves. But after that, Lance Lynn is the third-best pitcher in Major League Baseball right now.
The amount of innings a starting pitcher throws has been decreasing as the game continues to evolve. To show the trend starting pitching is on, take a look at the innings pitched leaders from 2010 compared to 2019. Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez led the National League, and American League in innings pitched back in 2010 by throwing 250.2 and 249.2 innings. In 2019, Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander led the senior and junior circuit but only had to pitch in 209 innings and 223 innings.
Lynn, however, has been a workhorse and hasn’t fallen to the trend. When looking at Fan Graphs, has led baseball from 2019 to 2020 in innings pitched. That can cause many good things to happen for a baseball team.
First of all, this means Lynn is being effective, which is obvious. A starting pitcher will not pitch that many innings if he can’t be effective at preventing runs, which is a pitcher’s job. Lynn owns a 3.40 earned run average since the start of 2019, which is 11th among qualifying pitchers. He is right there with the game’s best. Since 2019, he has the 4th highest wins above replacement, a statistic to estimate how many wins a player contributes among pitchers. The exciting part is that he is effective by using different variants of a fastball.
According to Baseball Savant, he used his four-seam fastball, cutter or sinker 90.5 percent of the time. That differs from today’s norm as many pitchers are throwing offspeed pitches at a higher rate. It works for Lynn, though — in 2020, Lynn kept opponents at a .211 batting average on at-bats that ended with one of his fastballs. His fastball usage is a key reason he can work deep into games, as it means he is attacking the strike zone with command, which leads to Lynn being efficient with his pitch count.
Being effective for a more extended period throughout the game does the bullpen a grand gesture. Bullpens are so critical to today’s game, and relievers these days are seeing more work than ever. But they are human and need rest too. When Lynn starts every fifth day, it rests the bullpen heavily by only requiring maybe a couple of arms out of the pen. That pays high dividends the next game when the pen is needed more and keeps the relievers more durable throughout a long 162-game season.
Lynn’s workhorse mentality and ability to pitch long into games is what makes him so valuable to a team. That’s why the White Sox traded for him this past off-season as they look to make a World Series run. If they are going to make the run, Lynn will be a crucial reason why.